White Stuff by Chris Green
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft agley – Robert Burns
It is said that accident is the real the director of life. Accident, of course, is not the same thing as destiny or fate and has nothing at all to do with synchronicity. Accident is pure random chance.
It is by accident that Sergio Blanco and Chelsea Moon’s paths should cross at Bilbao Airport as neither Sergio’s flight from Bogotá or Chelsea’s flight from Milan is scheduled to land there. That they both do is due to freak weather conditions over the Iberian peninsula which prevents them navigating Spanish air space. Sergio’s flight was heading for Madrid and Chelsea’s, London Heathrow. Pure random chance that both Sergio and Chelsea have picked identical black Samsonite luggage to travel with, more so for Chelsea perhaps as her original colour choice was red but the small town department store were waiting on a delivery. Accident that they both find themselves temporarily housed in the same section of the same Departure Lounge waiting to hear about the revised schedules for their flights. Under normal circumstances, in this striking modern airport designed by the audacious architect, Santiago Calatrava, doubling up on departures would simply not happen. Pure random chance that Sergio Blanco and Chelsea Moon pick adjacent seats, each hoping for reasons of their own that they will not have to engage in casual conversation with anyone. Accident too that when the time comes to move, each picks the other’s suitcase mistaking it for their own. Neither has thought to try to replace the weather-beaten baggage tags, an action which more than likely would have prevented such an error or at least minimised the consequences.
It is up to the airlines now to replace the unreadable tags at the check-ins for their revised flights. Part of the service, of course, along with sugary apologies for the circumstances beyond their control which forced the delays. With so many flights daily such matters have become routine. Neither Sergio or Chelsea have the slightest suspicion at this stage that anything might be amiss with their cases. Why would they? They are told that the blizzards over Spain have now eased and the snow on the runways is being cleared. They will shortly be able to board their onward flights.
Relieved to finally be back on home soil, Chelsea makes her way through Passport Control in Heathrow Terminal 2. She retrieves her suitcase from the carousel. She makes her way to the Nothing to Declare blue channel but hangs back to adjust a contact lens. One of the customs officers, a family man called Norman Daley views Chelsea’s hesitation as suspicious. Hanging back and looking nervous are things that he has been trained to look out for. He calls Chelsea over and politely asks her to accompany him to a side room, where he and a female officer, Bethany Chambers, a mother of two, inform her of the procedure they are about to carry out.
‘Did you pack this suitcase yourself,’ Norman asks, while Bethany goes through Chelsea’s hand luggage and prepares her for a body search.
‘Of Course,’ she says.
That Chelsea shows surprise when Norman Daley discovers the false bottom in the Samsonite suitcase does not phase him. He is an experienced customs officer. Feigning surprise is something that suspects usually do. The three kilos of cocaine he discovers in the secret compartment is also something that is becoming more commonplace for arrivals at Heathrow, if not usual on flights from Milan, albeit an interrupted flight. Despite Chelsea’s vigorous protests, the thing that seals her fate is that the suitcase does appear to be hers. Sergio Blanco has taken steps to cover his own tracks, should he be pulled over at Madrid by filling the suitcase with random ladies clothes. He could then claim that the suitcase had been switched without his knowledge. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the random clothes in the suitcase just happen to be her size and match the style of outfit she is wearing. The have the same labels, FatFace, Boden, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff. Even the underwear that he has chosen to pack is similar to that which Chelsea is wearing, Agent Provocateur, Janet Reger. Her protests fall on deaf ears. Norman Daley informs her that she is under arrest.
Sergio Blanco arrives at Madrid Airport. Understandably, given the circumstances, he is extremely nervous. He is physically shaking as he approaches Customs, and sweat is pouring from his brow. He has had a few practice runs in the past with small amounts of cocaine, secreted as everyday items like talc and dried food. But, he has never done anything remotely on this scale. This is big league. This is make or break time.
To his great relief, he makes it though Nada Que Declarar with little more than a nod. Feeling buoyant, he takes a cab to his hotel. He settles down with a cooling cubata and begins to make calls on the anonymous pay as you go phone he purchased at the airport. He is arranging to make drops of the drug for the following day. He is a happy man. Soon he will be rich.
When he opens the case he finds that it is full of ladies apparel. Familiar labels, FatFace, Boden, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff. But, to his horror, these are different clothes. The same labels but different clothes. More critically, the case has no false bottom. No secret compartment. No ….. well, no white stuff, no cocaine. It is a different case. How can this have happened? Whose case could it be? He goes through the contents, over and over but finds nothing that might help to identify its owner. The person who packed the suitcase is to all intents and purposes untraceable.
Without his product, Sergio has no way of paying his sizeable debts. Debts accrued largely through setting up his present venture. The gangsters he owes money to are unlikely to be understanding about his inability to pay them. They are not the kind of people who listen to excuses. He sees little choice but to go on the run.
Accident does not conform to universal laws. It can unleash an unstoppable chain of events. You might call it the domino effect. Once one goes, the others will follow. When this happens you cannot refer to fate or destiny. You cannot say this was not in the plan. This is a departure from the plan, a spiral of descent driven by a chance happening.
Chelsea Moon’s plea of Not Guilty is laughed out of court. Her barrister, Grayson Willoughby, Q. C. embarrassed to be taking such an obvious no-hoper of a case is more than a little half-hearted in his presentation. He wants to quickly bury this one and take on something that will win him acclaim, a case that he has a realistic chance of winning. His defence that the black Samsonite case must have been switched is quickly torn apart by the prosecution. The prosecution acknowledges that in theory the case could have been switched but as there is no evidence of this, the allegation is absurd. It is indisputable that it was Chelsea Moon’s case. The check-in desks at both Milan and Bilbao airports have supplied CCTV video evidence for the court. The footage shows Chelsea Moon checking in with this very same black Samsonite case. It is clear too that the clothes found in the case belonged to her. All the clothes were the right size and a search of her home revealed many similar outfits with the all too familiar labels, Boden, FatFace, White Stuff, mostly White Stuff.
‘And isn’t white stuff also a slang term for cocaine?’ says prosecution barrister, Roland Silk, Q.C. ‘Isn’t it the case, Ms Moon, that you were trying to be clever with your choice of brands?’
Judge Stover’s summing up is brief and the jury needs little persuasion. The jurors unanimously agree that Chelsea Moon is guilty of Importing commercial quantities of a border controlled drug and Judge Stover has no hesitation in handing down a six year sentence.
If you are going on the run there are a number of things you must first consider. You cannot afford to trust anyone so you need to cut all ties with friends and family. This is hard for Sergio as he has a large and varied network of friends in and around Madrid but fortunately, he has no long term partner and so far as he knows, no children. He now needs to stop using his email, social media accounts and all the other online accounts that might be traceable and he needs to liquidate his assets. The assets part is easy for Sergio. For assets, read debts but it is not until he is faced with the idea of closing accounts that he realises how tied into email and the like his life is. He needs to move out immediately leaving no trace of where he might be going.
With this in mind, Sergio makes his way to his apartment and under the cover of night takes off in his Seat Leon with just a couple of holdalls. He abandons the car at a small town near Toledo and takes a series of trains to the coast where he hopes he can blend in for a few days while he considers his options. The important step as he sees it is to change his appearance as quickly as he can and establish a new identity. This cannot be done overnight, but growing a beard and wearing big black sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat will help in the interim.
Sergio manages to call in a favour and his long term associate, Hugo Perez sets him up with a Canadian passport and Social Insurance number with the name, Charlie Snow. Charlie is able to travel to Nova Scotia where he is slowly able to build up his identity and blag a job with a small garage as a car mechanic. From here he manages to get to grips with the language and settle in. after a year or so, in keeping with his name perhaps, he manages to become a ski instructor at Ski Martock, a small undertaking near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ski Martock is remote. He is able to rest easy in the belief that no one will find him here.
Ironic then that Chelsea Moon’s sister, Siena should decide to treat her to a skiing holiday, following her release after serving three years of her six year sentence. Siena might have chosen a European ski resort, Courchevel or Val d’Isère. Madonna di Campiglio or Val Gardena. But, accident continues to show its hand. Siena chooses a small resort in North West Canada.
‘It’s called Ski Martock,’ she tells her sister, as they drive up in the hire car. ‘We can ease you in here as there will not be many people about and the slopes are gentle.’
‘Looks nice. I’ve always wanted to come to Canada,’ Chelsea says. ‘But I would have been thinking more of Toronto, or Vancouver perhaps.
‘You’ll be the height of fashion here,’ Siena says. ‘That White Stuff jacket you’re wearing, for instance.’
‘You like it?’ Chelsea says.
‘I was going to say, it’s quite apt for the piste,’ Siena says. ‘That’s where the idea for the White Stuff label came from, isn’t it?’
‘What! I thought it was ….. ‘
‘Oh! Sorry, sis. You thought it meant ……. the other white stuff. How insensitive of me!’
‘It’s all right, Siena. There’s nothing can be done about it now. I have to put all that behind me.’
‘Still, it must have a big impact on how you think about everything.’
‘Of course, but I have to move on. Hey! I do like the look of that fella. That beefy one with the beard. Do you think he’s going to be our instructor?’
‘What are you like! You’ve only been out five minutes and you’re lusting after the first hunk you set eyes on.’
Charlie is flattered by all the attention he is getting from the two sisters that have just arrived, especially the younger one, Chelsea. She is dark, beguiling, mysterious. He has not had too many chances to form a relationship in this far-flung corner of the North American continent so he is still footloose and fancy free. He guides Chelsea through the easy slopes and in no time at all she is ready to broaden her horizons. On the second night of their stay, she finds her way to his cabin and they make love. This becomes the pattern over the next ten days. Skiing, dinner, drinks in the bar, goodnight Siena, reconvene in Charlie’s cabin. Charlie is a little secretive about his background but as Chelsea is not anxious to share her recent history, she does not probe too deeply. She imagines though that he must have some Spanish blood. He has the faint traces of a Spanish accent.
The problem with holiday romances is that they don’t tend to last. They are based on nothing more than chance meetings. Seldom could such random encounters be considered destiny. Charlie Snow and Chelsea Moon’s brief affair, although passionate to begin with, is in this respect no different. As soon as distance separates them once more, they begin to forget one another. None of the promised letters. No phone calls. Not so much as a text. As neither of them are aware of the coincidence of their paths crossing twice, how could they imagine that their destinies might be entwined? Things do not necessarily happen for a reason. The real director of life is accident. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved